'Table 19': Film Review

Table 19-Still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
A well-meaning misfire.

Anna Kendrick stars alongside Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson and June Squibb in Jeffrey Blitz's comedy about a group of outcast wedding guests.

The quickest-witted and most endearing of comic actresses, Anna Kendrick has a recent track record of being decisively better than the movies she’s in. Table 19, an innocuous but misguided mess written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz from a story by Mark and Jay Duplass, continues the trend.

Mixing touchy-feely, sub-Sundance quirk, a studio comedy’s penchant for pratfalls and dick jokes, and unabashed John Hughes nostalgia, the film crowds its leading lady with a busy ensemble and too much plot. That’s a shame, since all we really want to do is watch Kendrick flirt, scheme and talk her way into and out of trouble.

As Eloise, a maid of honor turned unwanted guest at her best friend’s big fat Midwestern wedding — she’s demoted after the bride’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell) breaks up with her — the actress is in full command of her gifts: She nails one-liners and emotions with equal precision, and reminds us what a first-rate physical performer she can be (by turns klutzy and graceful, but always in character). Alas, Table 19 is one of those comedies so enamored of its own elevator pitch — Eloise finds herself seated with the losers the newlyweds felt obligated to invite but hoped wouldn’t come — that it neglects to nurture its central figure; Kendrick is constantly forced to compete with the movie’s gimmick.

That gimmick comes in the form of the motley crew assigned, along with Eloise, to the titular table: bickering married diner owners Jerry and Bina (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow); elderly busybody Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s childhood nanny; white-collar criminal Walter (Stephen Merchant), who’s just out of prison and not ready to talk about it; and desperately horny teen Renzo (Tony Revolori).

Bitter about her place on the seating chart, and smarting at the sight of Teddy getting cozy with the replacement maid of honor (Amanda Crew), Eloise ditches her fellow pariahs to banter with dreamy Aussie wedding crasher Huck (Thomas Cocquerel). But when he sneaks off into the night, our heroine hunkers down for some The Breakfast Club-style bonding with her tablemates.

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of Kudrow’s vividly unhappy Bina, those tablemates are comic stick figures who never amount to much more than the brief aforementioned character descriptions. That’s in no way the fault of the talented cast, all of whom hustle like consummate pros. But aside from a handful of amusing lines (including one about Googling “topless Helen Mirren”) and a good gag or two (as an additional indignity, Bina’s outfit is identical to that of the wait staff), the filmmakers go for low-hanging fruit; any laughs inspired by the ever-adorable Squibb extolling the virtues of “dope” and pulling a pipe out of her purse can hardly be considered well-earned.

Given the over-conceptualized, underwritten misfits at the film’s center, it’s no surprise that the two supporting players who excel here are on the fringes of the main action. Russell (who, as the pothead pitcher, practically sauntered away with Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!) is so distinctively shifty in the first two-thirds of Table 19 that it's hard to buy the character's final-act evolution. And, playing the boozy mother of the bride, the incomparable Becky Ann Baker (Lena Dunham’s mom on HBO’s Girls) does a spectacularly off-key rendition of Etta James’ “At Last” — complete with mic drop — that makes you wish the whole movie were about her.

Blitz, who directed the delightful spelling bee doc Spellbound (2002) and the so-so indie Rocket Science (2007), also with Kendrick, doesn’t attempt much visually, nor does he give the material the kind of snap it could have used. Moreover, he struggles with the tonal shifts that accompany a big midstory reveal and some climactic heart-to-hearts, too often resorting to folk rock on the soundtrack for emotional shortcuts.

The filmmaker does pull off a lovely, refreshingly un-talky scene that finds Eloise and Huck dancing to the wedding band’s cover of Cyndi Lauper’s aching synth ballad “All Through the Night.” Eloise holds Huck close, attempting to make Teddy jealous (it works), but also giving in to the possibility of romance with her hunky new suitor. It’s a small, human moment, and one you wouldn’t find in a coarser, more industrially processed mainstream comedy. Table 19 may be a misfire, but at least it’s a hand-crafted misfire.

Production company: 21 Laps
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Wyatt Russell, Amanda Crew
Director-writer: Jeffrey Blitz, from a story by Mark and Jay Duplass
Producers: Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen, P. Jennifer Dana, Mark Roberts
Executive producers: Jeremy Kipp Walker, Ross Jacobson, Tom McNulty, Sheldon Rabinowitz
Director of photography: Ben Richardson
Production designer: Timothy David O'Brien
Editor: Yana Gorskaya
Costume designer: Peggy Stamper
Music: John Swihart
Casting: Rachel Tenner

Rated PG-13, 87 minutes